Uncommon and Inexpensive Books from Peter L. Masi
By Michael Stillman
Peter L. Masi Books has released Catalog 203. Masi's catalogues are perennially hard to describe because there seems to be a bit of everything inside. He has broken the listings down by subject, so for example, there are books on agriculture, almanacs, Americana, amusements, architecture, art, and automotive. That's just the A's. There are over 500 items here, and if you want to spend a lot of money, you will have to buy just about all of them. Nothing here is expensive, most being priced in the $8-$25 range. You never know what you will find in these catalogues, but the chances are it will be something uncommon and unexpected. Let's take a look inside.
Item 43 pertains to one of the most sensational murder cases of the 19th century. Dr. George Parkman, a physician and wealthy landowner, as well as uncle to the famous Oregon Trail writer Francis Parkman, disappeared one day. The next time he was seen, he was in pieces, quite literally. A few of those pieces were discovered under the floorboards of the office of Dr. John Webster, a chemistry professor at Harvard. Webster claimed they came from research cadavers, but a dentist identified them as coming from Parkman. Webster had borrowed money from Parkman, secured by a cabinet of minerals he also used as security for another loan. It was after Parkman came to see Webster about this matter that he disappeared. Webster was convicted, and his life ended at the end of a rope. Item 43 is the Soliloquy of Prof. John W. Webster, after the Murder of Dr. Geo. Parkman up to the time of his execution. Written by Mary G. Doe, it provides a rhyming soliloquy of Webster at the gallows, which seems hard to believe he actually said: And now I lean my head, / Upon the gallows high, / And to a gazing throng I say, / I am prepared to die. Priced at $50.
Item 116 is one of those salesman's books, a description of a book along with a how-to sales piece. The book to be sold was Discovery of the North Pole describing Frederick Cook's journey, and there's some irony here in that few people believe any more that Cook discovered the Pole. His claims were not backed up by evidence. The book also explains Robert Peary's journey the following year, the one most often cited as the first to reach the Pole, though his claims have been questioned as well. $10.
Item 264 is The Wonderful Escape, one of many religious works aimed at children offered by Masi, most, like this, from the American Tract Society. This, as are most of these tracts, are horror stories designed to scare children into what they believed to be the right behavior. This one is the story of 12 young men who drink of the evil spirits. Eight end up dead before they are 40, three in poverty, and the ringleader, an infidel who reads Thomas Paine, eventually has a conversion experience, overcomes the demon drink, and lives to write this tale. $8.
Here is a biography of a man who came up with a very clever idea we now take for granted, but solved a problem that at one time wreaked havoc on long-distance travel. Item 329 is Charles F. Dowd, A.M., Ph. D.: A Narrative of His Services in Originating & Promoting The System of Standard Time... The author was Charles N. Dowd (probably his son) and it was published in 1930. The senior Dowd was the guy who came up with the idea of time zones. Before 1883, every community set its own time, likely based on noon coming when the sun was at its high point. This was a particular problem for setting timetables for high speed train travel, as departure and arrival times for each station could be different than what corresponded to a traveler's watch. Very confusing. So, he came up with the idea of large zones where the time in all communities would be the same, followed by another, clearly marked zone where the time was exactly one hour different. It is hard to imagine travel, or telephone, radio, etc., today without Dowd's idea. $20.
Item 54 is The German Conspiracy in American Education, a 1919 book by Gustavus Ohlinger. Ohlinger was himself descended from German immigrants, but was very wary of some others who emigrated from that land, especially more recent arrivals. During the year before America joined the allies in the First World War, he wrote a book challenging the patriotism of this group. He appeared before the Senate attacking the National German-American Alliance. Even after the war, he obviously entertained suspicions, based on this book. The Toledo lawyer and law professor saw a German conspiracy to control American education. $15.
Peter L. Masi Books may be reached at 413-367-2628 or email@example.com.
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